Treasury plans ‘will cut off 400,000 of society’s most vulnerable’
Fund that provides accommodation for pensioners, victims of domestic violence, and the homeless, threatened with 40% cuts
More than 400,000 vulnerable people, including pensioners and victims of domestic violence, could lose their homes and see care entitlement scrapped if the Treasury carries out its threat to lop 40% from a £1.6bn government support programme, campaigners warned today.
The National Housing Federation (NHF), which represents England’s housing associations, said that the “Supporting People” budget, which aims to allow the disadvantaged to lead independent lives and is paid through local authorities, is likely to face substantial cuts in the upcoming spending review.
The cash, which had previously been ringfenced, could see a range of the country’s poorest groups affected by shelters closing and caring support services shutdown.
The federation says this would be ultimately self-defeating as some of the most needy people in society – those with learning difficulties and ex-offenders with a range of social issues – would simply be thrust into the NHS, social services and the criminal justice system.
Unlike the NHS or education, which have been protected to some degree, the chancellor has asked the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to plan for cutbacks of between 25% and 40% of its spending. Under the deepest cuts, 438,000 vulnerable people could see outreach support reduced.
Research for the NHF says this worst-case scenario would see the closure of women’s refuges for 4,400 victims of domestic violence, the end of help for 15,600 homeless people and the loss of home-based support for 326,000 pensioners in sheltered accommodation. The programme has a particular focus on tackling drug abuse and more than 2,000 addicts could face ejection from temporary shelters.
NHF chief executive David Orr said: “Supporting People services help hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people lead independent and secure lives, and saves the taxpayer billions of pounds through the avoidance of costly hospital admissions and recourse to other services.”
He pointed out a study last year which showed the £1.6bn spent a year on housing-related support through the programme produced savings of more than £3.4bn for the Treasury, by intervening early to prevent more severe problems arising and avoiding more costly acute services.
As an example, the federation pointed out that single homeless people use acute hospital services four times more than the general population, at a cost of at least £85m a year. That figure, says Orr, would rise sharply if support is withdrawn.
The cuts would hurt many of the most vulnerable people in society, Orr argued: “It would also lead to increased demands on the health service, social services and the criminal justice system – and have profound social repercussions.”
“Given the scale of the nation’s housing crisis, it is critical that the nation keeps building affordable housing.
“Brutal cuts of 40% to the housing budget would effectively shut the door on an entire generation … we would urge the government to closely consider the huge human, social and economic cost of failing to invest in affordable housing.”
Academics said councils could prevent the cuts taking place – if local authorities decided to cover the cost from other budgets. Nicholas Pleace, at York University’s Centre for Housing Policy, said: “Whether these cuts occur depends largely on what the local authority decides… it might be that drug use is an issue locally and the council decides to fund the programme out of another budget.”
However, the NHF said it already has evidence that some local authorities have decided to consider large cuts to Supporting People budgets.
The government has also swept away Whitehall targets that were used to “hold the feet of the local authorities to the fire” over this budget, meaning the only hurdle a cut to the budget has to overcome now is an “equality assessment” for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The government defended its programme of cuts, pointing out that the core council budget had been ringfenced. A spokesperson for the DCLG said that while it was “only fair” that local authorities make a contribution to savings, central government was “committed to ensuring the most vulnerable people in society are protected from the impact of the savings being made in order to tackle the record budget deficit”.